If I were to buy a gaming laptop, I’d get the Toshiba Qosmio X75. It’s not the prettiest or the most powerful, but it meets all my requirements for a gaming PC, and it’s hundreds of dollars less expensive than other laptops with the same specs. It’s still not cheap at about $1,700, but I think you’ll be happy with it. If you want a laptop with the single most powerful mobile gaming GPU, you’ll have to spend more, but I have recommendations for that too. And if you want a smaller, more portable gaming machine, read on.
Specifically, I’d get the Toshiba Qosmio X75-A7298 with an Intel Core i7-4700MQ quad-core Haswell CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M graphics card, 16 GB of RAM, 1 TB hard drive and 250 GB SSD, Windows 8, and a 17.3″ 1080p screen. It’s $1,700 on Amazon as of September 17th, 2013
What’s Important in a Gaming Laptop
A good gaming laptop is one that’s powerful enough to play today’s most graphically and computationally intense video games at high settings and resolution at greater than 30 frames per second. Hardware and display quality are more important than portability and battery life, since most gaming laptops are designed to be used as desktop replacements. That’s not to say battery life isn’t important; it’s just not as important as powerful hardware. So here’s what I think makes a good gaming laptop.
A good gaming laptop is powerful enough to play today’s most graphically and computationally intense games at high settings and resolution at greater than 30fps.
A good, high-resolution display. I’d say 1600×900 is the minimum resolution for a good gaming laptop, and 1920×1080 for one with the best graphics card. Any lower, and the screen you’ll be working with will look pathetically low-res. The higher the resolution, the harder your card has to work, so your games will often look better at 1600×900 than 1920×1080. You’re rendering fewer pixels, so you’ll be able to turn up the graphical effects. Of course, a 1080p screen gives you the option of running your games at 1080p or at 1600×900 while still giving you full resolution for Blu-ray movies.
Resolution is actually more important than screen size. There are plenty of decent gaming laptops with 14-inch screens, but the laptops with the best video cards typically have 15 or 17-inch screens. The very largest have 18-inch screens (like the Alienware 18), but given that you’ll want a maximum of 1920×1080 you can go as small as 14 inches if you like. It’s all down to your portability preference.
Regardless of the resolution, the display still has to be good. It needs to have good color reproduction, brightness and viewing angles. Two otherwise-great 14″ gaming laptops got disqualified from our step-down model selection because the quality and viewing angles of their displays are so bad.
A fast dedicated GPU. The vast majority of laptops these days use the graphics processor that’s integrated onto the CPU—most ultrabooks, budget machines, workhorses and even the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro use integrated graphics. But integrated graphics aren’t nearly enough to play modern games, so a gaming notebook needs a dedicated GPU.
Most gaming notebook reviewers, like Jarred Walton at AnandTech, recommend Nvidia’s GeForce GTX-level GPUs or above. I want to be able to play graphically intense games like Tomb Raider at 1600×900 resolution with as much eye candy as possible. That means an Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M or better. NotebookCheck says the 770M can play older games at 1080p with all settings maxed, and can manage 1600×900 at high quality in the most demanding new games like Far Cry 3 or Crysis 3.
For comparison’s sake, the 770M can manage around 30 fps on BioShock Infinite’s “Ultra” settings at 1920×1080, according to NotebookCheck. That’s a playable framerate with all the eye candy. Intel’s HD 4400 graphics, the ones that are in most ultrabooks and budget machines, can manage an unusable 4.8 fps at the same settings, and even at 1280×720 at the Ultra Low settings, they get a barely playable 29 fps average.
You really need a good graphics card to take advantage of any modern games. Of this year’s mobile graphics cards, only the AMD Radeon HD 8970M and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 780M are faster than the 770M (as are last year’s GeForce GTX 680M and AMD Radeon HD 7970M, in some cases). The more dedicated video DRAM the better, too.Notebookcheck says the 770M is around 30 percent slower than the 780M.
A quad-core Haswell CPU. Games are computationally intense, and an underpowered CPU can actually be a bottleneck. You want a CPU that’s fast enough that it’s not slowing down your GPU. To keep up with something like a GeForce GTX 770M, I’d like a Core i7-4700MQ Haswell CPU. It’s a 2.4 GHz Haswell quad-core with MultiThreading that can turbo up to 3.4 GHz. It’s powerful enough that it won’t bottleneck the GPU, and it’s the highest (and lowest) you can go on the Toshiba Qosmio X75 anyway.
For a more powerful GPU like the 780M, you’ll want a more powerful CPU like the i7-4800MQ or the 7-4900MQ. But those cost a few hundred dollars more than the 4700MQ and equate to around only a five percent increase in game frame rates over an i7-4700MQ when used with a GTX 780M.
8 GB of RAM. 16 GB is a little overkill; most games will do fine with 8 GB of RAM. Still, 16 GB isn’t a problem. Go up to 32 GB, though, and you’re wasting money.
A fast SSD and some space. Most gaming laptops have room for multiple storage drives. Don’t get a gaming machine without at least a 256 GB SSD and 750 GB storage. The 256 GB SSD will be enough for OS and the games you’re presently playing; you can keep the rest of your games on the HDD and move them back and forth with Steam Mover as necessary. The extra mechanical drive space will ensure that you have plenty of room for movies, music and other programs, too. If you’re getting a laptop with only one drive bay, get as big an SSD as you can afford.
Battery life & portability. These aren’t actually hugely important when you’re gaming on a 17-inch screen—and you won’t get good results gaming on battery power anyway—but if you ever DO need to take your PC out of the house and do non-gaming stuff, it’s nice to get at least 4 hours of non-gaming life out of your battery and have your laptop weigh less than 10 pounds. Ultrabooks, by comparison, weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. But that’s the price you pay for power. Along with, you know, the monetary price.
What’s Not Important
A touchscreen. Touchscreen games don’t need good hardware and games that need good hardware don’t need touchscreens. This may change in the future, but the type of games that require a gaming laptop are best controlled via mouse and keyboard or a controller.
3D. Some laptops come with 3D emitters and glasses, but it’s generally not worth the money or the frame-rate hit that comes from having to render every frame twice. If you’re not already a) certain that you need 3D capability and b) willing to pay the extra price, skip it.
A Blu-ray drive. Okay, this one varies. If you want one, you should get one. If you’re dropping $1800 on a gaming laptop it’s probably your primary entertainment machine, so if you want to watch Blu-ray movies on that nice big screen, you should get a Blu-ray drive. Otherwise, stick with a DVD drive.
Windows 8. Windows 8 is fine, really it is, but you don’t need it on a gaming machine, especially one without a touchscreen, since the games you’ll be playing launch from the desktop and don’t use the Modern UI. That said, if it doesn’t run Windows 8, your laptop should run Windows 7. Earlier versions of Windows can’t access the latest DirectX runtimes, meaning your games will look worse. As far as OS X and Linux go, they now have more gaming options than ever before. But the vast majority of games run on Windows; fewer have Mac or Linux versions. There’s no reason to avoid Windows 8, just no reason to seek it out over Windows 7.
What about Gaming Desktops?
Of course, if you want the best gaming performance for your money, there’s no way around it: desktop rules the day. For the price of our main gaming laptop pick you can build a shoebox-sized desktop with a faster CPU and (much) faster GPU, the same RAM and SSD capacities, and four times the mass storage capacity of our step-up model. Even with a great monitor, mouse and keyboard it’s under $1,900 and easily beats a $2,500 laptop. But then you’ll need a laptop if you ever want to compute somewhere else. Lots of people do desktop-plus-laptop. But if you want a single computer that doesn’t take up as much room as even a small desktop, and can be easily taken from room to room or on the road, but one powerful enough to play games on, welcome to gaming laptop land.
What I’d Get: Toshiba Qosmio X75
And that brings us to our pick. If I was buying a 17″ gaming laptop that had enough power to play all the modern games at near maximum settings, I’d get the Toshiba Qosmio X75. The Qosmio X75 is a powerful 17″ 1080p gaming laptop with a lot of bang for your buck.
The $1,700 configuration, the one I’d get, hits or exceeds all my must-haves for a gaming powerhouse.
The $1,700 configuration, the one I’d get, hits or exceeds all my must-haves for a gaming powerhouse. It has a quad-core i7-4700MQ Haswell CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M GPU with 3 GB of GDDR5 frame buffer, 16 GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 17.3″ 1080p screen with good viewing angles. It runs Windows 8 and games from a 256 GB SSD and has a 1 TB mechanical drive for mass storage. The build quality is decent (although gaming laptops typically are more plasticky than, say, ultrabooks) and it comes with a Blu-ray burner and decent speakers.
Basically, I like this thing because it’s a good carrier mechanism for the important guts, at a great price. Other laptops have similar guts and perform similarly, and it’s not like I hate those—this one just represents a good value and a lack of glaring flaws. Other laptops with the same guts are either far more expensive or of lower quality. Sometimes both! (I’ll run through some examples below in the competition section.)
The Qosmio X70 series starts at just $1,200. At that price you get the same GPU and CPU and 1080p screen, but the RAM drops down to 8 GB, you lose the SSD and Blu-Ray burner (though you still get a Blu-ray player), you get a slightly worse Wi-Fi radio and the hard drive goes down to 750 GB. It’s a good deal, actually, but it’s only $30 more to get the 1 TB drive, and I wouldn’t buy a computer without an SSD, even though it adds $300 to the price. So you’re looking at minimum of $1,530.
Who Likes It
Dan Howley at Laptop Mag gives the Qosmio X75 4 stars and an Editors’ Choice award.He loves its gorgeous 1080p panel, keyboard and touchpad, and generally admired its cooling performance. “With its monstrous power, gorgeous display and impressive audio quality, the Qosmio X75 is a beastly gaming rig. Throw in its sexy design and wonderful keyboard and you’ve got a contender for one of the top gaming laptops around. What makes the Qosmio all the more impressive is its relatively low $1,769 price. While the competition may have it beat in a few areas such as in-game frame rates, the Qosmio more than makes up for it in pricing, display quality and audio. If you’re looking for a rock-solid gaming rig, and don’t have the more than $2,000 to blow on a similarly configured Alienware 17, the Qosmio is an easy choice.”
Dan Ackerman at CNET only gives it 3.5 stars, but if you read the review his complaint is basically that it is the size and shape of a traditional 17-inch gaming computer. “If I could insert the Qosmio X75′s internal components into a nicer body, with a touch screen and a silent keyboard, I’d buy one today. Instead, what we have is the guts of a great 2013 laptop at reasonable price, stuck in a body that feels a few years out of date.” Most of the review is actually grudging praise. Dinging it for not having a touchscreen is frankly absurd, given that there’s virtually no overlap between touchscreen games and the kind of games you buy a $1,800 computer for.
Jarred Walton at AnandTech mentioned it in his Gaming Laptop Back To School Guide: “But what about a larger, higher performance “midrange” gaming notebook? Looking around, the best balance of price, features, and performance right now looks to be the Toshiba Qosmio X75-A7295 ($1417). It’s a 17.3” screen and weighs 7.6 pounds (plus a 1.9 pound power brick), and the 47Wh battery is on the small side for such a large chassis. Despite the size, the i7-4700MQ and GTX 770M will provide a decent step up in gaming performance from laptops with the GTX 765M, as you increase the number of shaders as well as the width of the memory bus – on paper, the GTX 770M has about 20% more computational power than the 765M with 50% more memory bandwidth. If you want as much gaming performance as you can get for a reasonable price, the X75 gets our current recommendation.”
Finally, just before we published this piece, Mike Brown at PCWorld declared the Qosmio X75 one of “the best Haswell notebooks you can buy today,” and named it his pick for the desktop replacement category.
Flaws that Aren’t Dealbreakers
The problem with the Qosmio X75, aside from the fact that you’ll get better build quality from the Alienware 17, is that it tops out at a Core i7-4700MQ CPU and a GTX 770M GPU. You can’t put a better GPU or CPU in it.
You don’t want to use these on your lap, despite their category’s moniker.
The reason for a better GPU, of course, is better gaming performance, and the reason for a better CPU is so that it can keep up with the GPU—AnandTech’s performance testing has found that the i7-4700MQ can actually hold the top-end GPU, the 780M, back in some games. The best mobile GPU currently on the market, according to NotebookCheck, is the Nvidia GTX 780M. It looks like the Radeon 8970Mis next most powerful, then last generation’s Radeon HD 7970M and Nvidia GTX 680M, and then the Nvidia GTX 770M—the one in our main pick. To take full advantage of the power of the GTX 780M, you’ll want to kick up the CPU to a Core i7-4800MQ or i7-4900MQ. The most powerful quad-core Haswell mobile CPU, the i7-4930X, is $500 more expensive and doesn’t add much, if anything, to your gaming performance. For a gaming laptop it’s the equivalent of setting $500 on fire. Even going from an i7-4700MQ to an i7-4900MQ (which costs around $300) with a GTX 780M only gets you single-digit percent performance improvements in most games.
I’ve also seen complaints about heat on NewEgg and Wi-Fi on Amazon, but complaints about Wi-Fi pop up on nearly every laptop in existence and all gaming laptops are hotter than ultrabooks when they’re running at full tilt. You don’t want to use these on your lap, despite their category’s moniker.
I think the i7-4700MQ and GTX 770M are right at the price/performance sweet spot for most serious gamers, but if you want more, you can get it—for a price.
The Step Up: Alienware 17
The Alienware 17 is the most recent version of the laptop that’s been our main gaming pick since we started the category. The Alienware 17 has great build quality, a stellar keyboard and trackpad, and a cool lighting scheme, including customizable LEDs for the keyboard backlight. The only real problems with the Alienware 17 are price and a relative lack of customizability. For example, at Alienware.com, you can configure an Alienware 17 with the Core i7-4700MQ, 16 GB RAM, GeForce GTX 770M, and 750 GB hard drive, but that configuration costs $1,925 and the website doesn’t allow you to add a Blu-ray drive or 256 GB SSD. The $1,700 Toshiba Qosmio has similar specs but also a larger hard drive, the extra 256 GB SSD and a Blu-ray drive. So it’s slightly faster at bootup and level loading than the closest equivalent Alienware for several hundred dollars less. In-game frame rates will be largely identical at this level, though, due to the same GPU and CPU.
If you want more power than the Qosmio X75, you can configure an Alienware 17 with a Core i7-4800MQ, 16 GB RAM, GeForce GTX 780M, 256 GB SSD and 750 GB HDD, as well as Blu-ray and Wireless-AC, but that configuration will run you $2,900—that’s over $1000 more than the Qosmio X75. It should run games about 25 to 40 percent higher frame rates at high settings, depending on the game.
Laptop Mag’s Sherri L. Smith gives the Alienware 17 four out of five stars and an Editors’ Choice award. The configuration she reviewed is the same one I’d get. Although it’s expensive and heavy, Smith calls it the “gold standard for gaming rigs” and praises its display, keyboard, trackpad, speakers and general build quality.
Joel Santo Domingo at PCMag gives it 4 stars, but isn’t wild about its bulk or battery life and prefers the Razer Blade 14. If it wasn’t for the terrible screen on the Blade, maybe I would too.
Charles Jeffries at NotebookReview gives it 4.5 stars.
So does John R. Delaney at ComputerShopper. “The 17-inch Alienware is the gaming laptop that other gaming laptops are compared to. The new refresh comes just in time to preserve that status, and keep Alienware at the top of mobile gamers’ short lists.”
AnandTech’s Dustin Sklavos reviewed an Alienware 17 with the configuration I’d get (the i7-4800MQ, 780M, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD & 750 GB HDD, etc), and said, “The Alienware 17 turned out not to be the flagship “this is how it’s done” gaming notebook I’d expected, but it at least serves as a reality check in and of itself for what we can expect from Haswell and the 780M. It’s also incredibly expensive, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Ultimately, if you can afford it, I still think the Alienware 17 is the gaming notebook you want.”
Alienware’s base warranty is for one year of support; you can buy up to four years of support and up to four years of damage protection, if you’re the type to fling your computer around or spill soda on it.
Almost Great Enough: A Customized Clevo
Honestly, for the step-up model, I came very close to recommending a Clevo laptop instead of the Alienware, because you can get the same guts with more customizability for around $500 less than the Alienware (at least at the configuration listed above). It was a hard choice, but ultimately I went with the Alienware for my main step-up pick, because it has better build quality, keyboard, display and trackpad. If you’re spending this much on a laptop, you might as well get something that isn’t janky on the outside.
If you haven’t heard of Clevo, you’re not alone. They don’t have the brand recognition of HP or Dell. Most gaming laptops that aren’t made by one of the big PC manufacturers like Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba, Dell, or HP, are actually made by one of a relatively small number of ODMs (original device manufacturers). So when you buy a CyberPowerPC, AVADirect, Sager, XoticPC, or Eurocom laptop, for example, chances are you’re buying something that’s been built by Clevo or MSI or Gigabyte or someone and customized by the people you’re buying it from.
If you haven’t heard of Clevo, you’re not alone. They don’t have the brand recognition of HP or Dell.
The advantage of buying a laptop from a boutique builder rather than buying a Toshiba Qosmio or Alienware or Razer Blade is simple: customizability and bang for your buck. In exchange for being able to get your laptop built just the way you want it—from the paint job to the thermal paste—and for a good price, you trade a bit of build quality and battery life. These laptops tend to err toward plasticky and massive, rather than sleek and metallic. But that’s to keep weight and heat down. Most people spending $1,500+ on a gaming machine are buying desktop replacements that’ll spend most of their time in one place. That said, Dell’s Alienware laptops have better build quality, displays, trackpads, and a few hundred dollars more of cost for the same guts as you’d get from a Clevo or MSI seller. If you’d rather not spend that few hundred extra dollars, you should consider a Clevo-based system from one of the above vendors.
Regardless of which Clevo chassis you end up with, to get a meaningful speed boost over the Toshiba Qosmio X75 you’ll be looking at spending about $2,400. For that price you get a great 1080p panel (either 15.6″ or 17.3″), an Intel Core i7-4800MQ Haswell quad core processor, 16 GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 780M GPU, and Wireless-AC. If you pick a chassis with multiple hard drive slots (or one 2.5-inch and one mSATA slot), get a 256 GB SSD and a 1 TB HDD. If you pick a smaller chassis, like the Clevo P157SM, opt for a 480 GB or 512 GB SSD. A Blu-ray drive is not essential, but it’s usually not a whole lot of money to upgrade from a DVD drive, and you may as well put that 1080p screen to good use. This kind of configuration represents around a $400 savings compared to an equivalent Alienware.
Because chassis quality is a concern, it’s important to look at the warranty you get with your custom laptop. Most of these vendors offer one-year warranties by default, which can be extended to up to three years. It’s probably worth extending the warranty a bit, especially if it’s your first time ordering a laptop from the vendor you choose.
You can build a custom Clevo from AVADirect, MythLogic, XoticPC, Eurocom, orSager for under $2,500 with an i7-4800MQ, GTX 780M, 8 GB or 16 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD and 1 TB HDD, Blu-ray burner, and Wireless-AC. Those are the step-up specs I’d get.
Jarred Walton at AnandTech has a list of vendors for the Clevo 15 and 17-inch notebooks in his back-to-school gaming laptop buying guide, which has been very helpful in constructing this piece.
Jarred reviewed the 15-inch MythLogic Pollux 1613, based on the Clevo 157SM, and he liked both the performance and the experience of working with MythLogic. “Since you’re likely to buy a big and bulky gaming notebook for the purpose of playing games, performance and cooling have to be two of the most critical factors – price, features, aesthetics, and other aspects all still play important roles but they’re generally not at the same level. This is where the P157SM delivers, and Mythlogic offers up a nicely customized build that hits all the right notes.”
The one weakness of this generation of Clevo laptops, besides a general cheap-feeling build, is that their trackpads are not good. Both Jared’s review of the MythLogic Pollux and Vivek Gowri’s review of the Eurocom X5, based on the 17-inch Clevo 177SM chassis, specifically call out the awfulness of the Sentelics touchpads as among the worst they’ve ever used. If you are getting a gaming laptop, you’ll be spending most of your time using a mouse anyway, but a laptop that costs over $2000 should be easy to use.
Still, if your primary concern in a gaming laptop is getting the best guts for the lowest price, without as much regard to build quality, a customized Clevo provides a much better value than an Alienware.
The Rest of the Competition
There is a lot of competition in gaming laptops, and there are a couple of options that come very close to our recommendations in most respects. Most have one or two dealbreaking flaws, however.
The Alienware 18 is also a great laptop, but it’s ferociously expensive and enormous when fully kitted out. Having multiple graphics cards adds unnecessary complexity. Everyone likes it, but I think it’s just overkill. LaptopMag and PCMag both give it Editors’ Choice awards based on the performance and build quality, and if you are okay with the size and expense it’s a good choice. But man: it’s basically a barn door.AnandTech calls it “an expensive, niche product,” and says that at this size and price you’re basically better off building a small desktop, which will be faster and cheaper and only marginally less portable.
The Asus G750JX is a close competitor to the Toshiba Qosmio X75, but it’s slightly more expensive for the same specs and lacks Blu-ray. Laptop gives it 4 stars, but they prefer the size, display quality, speakers and price of the Qosmio. It’s not a bad laptop by any stretch—with 4.5/5 stars on Amazon, out of 15 reviews—just not quite as good a value as the Qosmio. And it’s a pound heavier.
If you don’t want a giant laptop but still want nearly as much power as you’d get from the Toshiba Qosmio X75, consider the Alienware 14. It maxes out at an i7-4700MQ and Nvidia GTX 765M, but it has solid build quality, a great 1080p screen, plenty of ports, and all the juice.
Laptop isn’t wild about its screen, and CNET doesn’t like its bulk, but neither has any complaints about performance. It tops out at the GTX 765M, though, so you won’t get the same level of performance as the Qosmio X75. NotebookReview gives it four stars, but says it’s a little thick and heavy and expensive. Which it is. The Verge gives it an 8.1 out of 10, saying it’s “as solid and comfortable a gaming laptop (wrist rests aside) as I’ve ever tried, and fits more power than a next-gen game console and as much as many beefier gaming laptops into its frame.” The configuration I’d get has an i7-4700MQ CPU, GTX 765M GPU, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD & 750 GB hard drive, and a DVD burner, but it’s $1,700—the same price as the more powerful Qosmio X75. The Alienware is smaller, of course, and better built, but at 6.6 pounds it’s only a pound lighter than the Qosmio. It’s more easy to shove in a bag, but not that much easier to cart around after you’ve done so.
There’s a lot to love about the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p, which does very well for a $1,300 laptop by incorporating two cheaper graphics cards rather than one expensive one. Laptop Mag says, “Gamers looking to buy a powerful system without breaking the bank will find a lot to love in the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p. For only $1,299, the notebook comes loaded with a speedy Haswell quad-core processor, dual Nvidia GPUs in SLI configuration and a 1 TB drive to install all of your Steam games with room to spare. We also appreciate the bright and crisp 1080p screen and JBL speakers. The only notable drawback is that some keys are shrunken to accommodate the number pad.” They give it an Editors’ Choice award, as does NotebookReview. ComputerShopper notes that it outperforms the much more expensive Razer Blade.
However, having two graphics cards increases complexity and chances of things going wrong (NoteBookCheck found microstuttering and poor performance in games lacking SLI profiles) plus it sucks more power and requires more cooling. Also, the Y510p only has a small 24 GB caching SSD to go with its hard drive, and although a caching SSD is better than nothing, I wouldn’t get any computer without a dedicated SSD for the OS and games, especially not a $1,300 one.
The $1,300 configuration of the Acer Aspire V7-482PG-9884 ultrabook gets lots of praise from AnandTech. It’s definitely in a lower class of performance than the Toshiba Qosmio X75, with a dual-core i7-4500U CPU and GeForce GT 750M GPU, but it’s far more portable and a few hundred dollars cheaper. “The Acer Aspire V7 is quite possibly my favorite Acer laptop of the past five or more years. [. . .]When we look at all of the things that the Acer V7 gets right, I end up doing something I rarely do. The Acer Aspire V7 warrants an Editor’s Choice Award, not because it’s perfect but because it’s about as close as I’ve seen in recent years.” It has a 14″ 1080p multitouch screen, it’s less than an inch thick, and it weighs 4.3 pounds. But like the Lenovo Y510p, it only has a 24 GB caching SSD to go with its hard drive. I’d rather see the touchscreen go away and be replaced by a real SSD.
Most of MSI’s recent laptops are great, but all have at least one glaring flaw.
The GT70 and GT60 are great laptops, and they’d be strong contenders for our step-up pick, but their thermal solutions aren’t up to snuff. They both get way too hot when gaming on a 780M and a quad-core Haswell CPU, because they only have one fan that has to cool the GPU and CPU alike. It’s too bad, because otherwise the GT70 is a very good machine.
Laptop gives the GT60 four stars but notes that it runs hot. AnandTech‘s Jerred Walton goes a step further with the GT70—which he otherwise likes—and says “The fact remains: the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition’s thermal design simply isn’t enough.”
Laptop gives the MSI GS70 four stars, but says it too gets too hot while gaming.
The GX70 and GX60 use AMD CPUs and GPUs rather than Intel CPUs and Nvidia GPUs.In the review of the GX60, AnandTech notes that the AMD A10 APU in the GX60 is slow enough to actually hold back the otherwise-great GPU: “Even when trying to isolate GPU performance with 3DMark, it’s pretty clear the AMD APU is holding back the Radeon HD 7970M. The newer generation GX60 is able to eke out a fairly consistent, measurable lead over its predecessor, but a substantial amount of the 7970M’s performance is clearly being left on the table.”
PCMag gives the GX70 four stars and an Editors Choice award, but note that it lags in “overall system performance,” meaning (again) that the CPU isn’t quite up to snuff.
MSI’s GE40 is a strong contender for the 14″ gaming laptop space, but its LCD is bad enough to eliminate it from contention. Laptop Mag gives it 3.5 stars (and also says it runs hot). AnandTech says bluntly “the LCD is junk.”
Speaking of junky LCDs, here’s where I explain why the Razer Blade doesn’t get my recommendation, despite great reviews. The Razer Blade does a lot of things right, and it’s definitely the kind of thoughtful, sleek design I want to see from a gaming rig, but its display is inexcusably bad.
AnandTech says the panel is “atrocious,” which is heartbreaking, considering everything else about the laptop (except its price and how hot it gets) is fantastic. “Where Razer threw the game is the display. Almost everything else about the Razer Blade 14-inch goes so, so right, and then there’s the dismal 1600×900 panel. The resolution isn’t the issue; 1600×900 is actually just right for the GTX 765M. It’s the panel quality that kills. After loving up on the fit and finish of the Blade at every other step, paying attention to every detail, they turned around and seriously crippled the notebook with a lousy screen that threatens to undermine the whole operation. I can’t fathom what the thought process was behind this decision, but it wasn’t worth it. We’re at a price point where an extra $100 for a display that doesn’t suck wouldn’t be a big deal.”
PCMag gives it four stars and an Editors Choice award. They don’t mention the screen at all, except to say it’s not high-res enough.
CNET gives it 3.5 stars. “What I love most about the Blade 14 is its fearless no-gimmick approach to making a really usable and very slim gaming laptop. This is a laptop you’d gladly make your main computer and not feel saddled by. What I don’t like is the screen: non-IPS, only 1,600×900-pixel resolution, and simply subpar compared with alternatives. When immersed in a game it becomes more acceptable than when staring at text or static high-res images, but at this price, you’d expect a higher-end option.” Scott Stein, the reviewer, said that if it had a better screen it’d get an Editors’ Choice award.
Laptop’s Sherri Smith gives it 4 stars. She doesn’t mind the screen (except the viewing angles), but calls out the excessive heat while gaming. “Still, the aluminum-clad chassis remained too hot for laptop gaming. The touchpad measured 98 degrees, while the space between the G and H keys reached 113 degrees. The bottom of the notebook hit a scorching 125, as did the space between the hinge and the display.”
The Qosmio is a Good Gaming Laptop
So there you have it. If I was buying a gaming laptop today, I’d get the Toshiba Qosmio X75. It has a better screen and higher performance than the Razer Blade, it’s less expensive than virtually any laptop in its class, and it has a lack of glaring flaws. It’s a good container for the hardware I want. If I wanted to spend more money and get more performance, I’d get the $2,800 configuration of the Alienware 17, but I’d strongly consider a Clevo laptop from one of a few good vendors if I needed to save a few hundred bucks at the cost of some build quality.
This guide originally appeared on The Wirecutter on 9/25/2013 and is republished here with permission.